Ethnology of Tongareva
The kitchens are small buildings roofed with coconut leaves and set slightly back from the dwelling houses. The kitchen shelters the site of the oven (umu).
Fire was formerly produced in the general Polynesian method with the fire plough. A pointed piece of hardwood was rubbed back and forth to form a groove on the upper cut surface of another piece of dry wood laid flat on the ground. The near end of the lower piece was held in position by the foot of the operator while an assistant steadied it with a foot placed on the other end. The dust produced by rapid rubbing collected at the page 101 far end of the groove and ignited through friction. The lower fire stick was turned over, and the smouldering particles were emptied onto a piece of the dry coconut husk (puru) kept in the houses for lighting fires. The piece of puru was waved to and fro until it blazed.
Firewood was scarce, and all suitable parts of the coconut palm were utilized: the dry flower sheath (taume), the dry flower stems (roro), and the dry discarded shells of husked nuts (ipu). Firewood (kautahu) was also obtained from various trees, the dry branches of which were broken up by the hands and by beating the branches against other objects. In the legend of Sokoau, Sokoau says to her brothers, “I au e rongo ake nei i te saruru o te kautahu e sangi mai nei. Noku paa?” (I hear the sound of the crashing of firewood. Perhaps it is for me?)
In the Polynesian oven heat for cooking is produced by heating a single layer of stones arranged over the top of the burning wood. In the volcanic islands stone is plentiful, but in atolls like Tongareva the absence of good stone presents difficulties. Recourse was had to pieces of coral and the empty shells of the Tridacna. The coral was broken up into suitably sized pieces which, however, could be used once only, as after being heated they crumbled up into small white pieces (tia). A new supply of coral had to be obtained each time the oven was used. Accumulations of small, soft pieces of tia are to be seen about the old cooking houses, and mounds of tia mark the sites of ovens formerly used for cooking turtle near the sacred marae inclosures. (See page 174.)
The Tridacna shells used are those of medium size which are obtained in large quantities from the lagoon. They are thick, but crumble readily after use. However, each fresh supply of food also furnishes a fresh supply of shells. The pile of discarded shells at the back of the cooking house serves a useful purpose as reserve heating material, just as the pile of discarded coconut shells forms reserve fuel.
When the coral pieces or shells are heated they are levelled off to form an even bed for the food. To prevent the food from being burned it is necessary to place a layer of green material between the heated medium and the food. Here again Tongarevan methods are influenced by their environment. In the high volcanic islands strips from banana stems or large leaves are used, but in Tongareva, where such material is absent, the green husk of coconuts forms a ready substitute. Shredded strips of green husk are laid in a layer over the stones, and the food is placed upon the husk.
In the use of the coconut culinary methods in Tongareva differ from those in the high volcanic islands. In the high islands coconut cream page 102 expressed from the grated mature nut is the only part of the coconut that is cooked, and this is usually put with other foods to add flavor. In Tongareva, except for the fruit of the hala (Pandanus; Tongarevan, hara), preparations of coconut form the only vegetable matter that can be cooked. The flesh of the fruit is grated and mixed within the shell, the top of the shell is put on as a cover, and the food is cooked within it. Some of these shell containers, which become blackened on the outside, may be used again. It is always the base of the nut that is cut off as a lid, because the eye depression at that end becomes patent. A leaf is usually put on under the cover to prevent dust from passing through the hole into the food.
Some fish are cooked whole, but others are cut up and cooked in coconut shells. The rich gravy of such fish as the ruhi is preserved by a method comparable to modern cooking in casseroles.
Oven cover. Owing, probably, to the absence of suitable large-leaved plants such as the banana, breadfruit, and hau (Hibiscus) the covers designed to keep the heat in the oven are neatly made from coconut leaves with the leaflets plaited in twill. They are termed tōtō umu (to, to cook in an oven, umu)—a word that differs from the more widely used tao. (For technique see page 129.)
Coconut shell cups (ipu). Cups were only used for drinking water, for coconut fluid was drunk directly from the opened nut and kava was not made in Tongareva.
Water bottles. Coconut water bottles (puharu) were used. In making them the depression (mata) at the base of a mature whole nut was pierced and salt water poured into the cavity to rot out the flesh. Sennit cords were attached by puncturing holes through the other two depressions at the base to pass the cord through, and the mata hole was closed with a leaf stopper. As many as twenty of these vessels were carried on a pole to the water hole and filled. A water hole named Kitereau, seen near Te Reinga marae in the Motukohiti district, had the reputation of containing water when other water holes were dry. After the establishment of the modern villages people went overland or by canoes from Omoka to get their water supply from Kitereau.
Wooden bowls (kumete). Wooden bowls were made from hano and tou. The hano wood was seasoned by soaking in salt water, and tou was buried in the ground. Logs of tou are not infrequently dug up by accident in places where they have been buried by a previous generation and forgotten. Bowls were needed to serve the uncooked preparations of grated coconut to more than one person. The usual type of food bowl was said to be oval. They have now entirely disappeared, owing to the use of modern trade equivalents. Lamont (15, p. 152) referred to the wooden bowls, which he termed comitics, as the only Tongarevan utensils besides coconut shell cups.page 103
Round bowls (kumete tatau). The kumete tatau has a rounded bottom and a projecting short lug on either side. Its name is derived from its use as a receptacle for roro cream after it has been expressed and strained (tatau) from the grated mature nut. The kumete tatau, then, function as drinking flagons. They are now extremely scarce, as the roro cream is rarely made. (See pl. 8.)
Shell scrapers. The shell of the bivalve kasi (Asaphis violacea) is used to scrape out pieces of the mature nut, such as the takataka, at meals. The shell is also used by the women in preparing the flesh of the mature sakari nut for extracting the roro cream. Some women prefer it to the coral grater. The older experts could remove the pieces in such thin slices that a coral grater was unnecessary and its use was even disparaged.
Figure 9. Pearl shell hand graters (tuai), 4 to 7 inches long, 0.5 to 0.75 inches wide at hinge end, and 1.25 to 1.75 at other end. a, front and side views of short implement made without hinge of shell, back ground to remove roughness, 0.1 to 0.15 inches thick: 1, upper hinge end, narrow with rounded point; 2, lower grating, convex from side to side and not serrated. b, front and side views of longer implement, thick hinge part of upper end and lower edge ground from back: 1, upper end, part of hinge included; 2, lower end, serrated cutting edge.
Hand grater (tuai). The hand grater is a utensil made from the shell of the pearl oyster (parau), cut in long narrow strips from the hinge to the free edge and somewhat resembling a shoe horn. (See fig. 9.) The front is formed by the inner smooth surface of the shell, which is concave longitudinally and slightly so transversely. Some graters are very thin, the hinge, part of the shell having been cut away. Others include part of the hinge, and in these the upper end is wide enough for the thick hinge to afford a good grip. Most of the graters are serrated, but some are smooth-edged. Some are but lightly ground down on the back to remove the roughness, but others are ground down to remove all the dark material, and thus give the implement a polished appearance. Lamont (15. p. 185) states that some graters had rude carvings upon them. Each household has a number of these page 104 implements. They are used as spoons for grating and conveying the softer flesh of the green nuts such as the ni mata and ni motomoto to the mouth. The end of the nut is tapped with a stone to crack the shell in a circle, the small cap is removed, and the contained fluid is poured into another receptacle. The opened nut is held on the lap, and the hand grater is used with quick, light strokes to separate the flesh into thin strips. The strip may be made thinner or thicker by regulating the pressure on the grater. When all the flesh is grated, including that on the cap, the fluid is poured back into the shell containing the grated material, and the two are mixed. The flesh may be eaten, with the tuai used as a spoon, or cooked to form the preparation known as ni varu. If quantity is required the grated material is emptied into a bowl. The process of grating with a tuai is termed waruwaru. The hand grater is also used for grating the karisi (soft portion of the husk at the base of the younger nuts.) Fragments of these implements are to be seen near old house sites on the various islands, and they are the commonest artifacts found. They are also to be seen on the coral gravel covering graves, having formed part of the personal effects of the deceased.
Figure 10. Coral stand grater (kau tuai) observed in rough working hut: a, side view; b, side opposite commencement. 1, piece of coral 5.1 inches long, 2 inches wide, and 1.4 inches thick; 2, longitudinal and front edges, rounded off; 3, slight groove chipped for lashing—coral is laid on piece of board (4) of same width at one end with 1.6 inches projecting beyond board; 5, running noose of fishing line fixed around coral and wood with six or seven close turns; 6, two half-hitches around lashing finish off cord on opposite side to commencement.
Probably no elaborate tripod, or seat, was used with the stand grater. The straight arm of the implement was leaned against a support formed by a rock, a piece of wood, or the slanting butt of a coconut tree. The coral end was elevated to give clearance for a bowl or a mat placed below. The operator rested his knees against the wooden arm to keep it in position and grated the split nut against the coral.
Nahuinga, the oldest woman in the Omoka village and affectionately called “Ma” (mother) by all, gave me a demonstration of the expert celerity with which a kasi shell can be used in clearing out a mature sakari nut into the fine thin pieces necessary for wringing out coconut cream, the only use for which a stand grater is needed. She maintained that she could prepare the material more quickly than with the coral stand grater, and she preferred the kasi shell. This preference for the kasi shell probably explains why a better stand is not made for the coral tuai. The stand grater was merely an accessory implement to which no care in structural technique was devoted.
Coconut cream wringer (kainga). The combined wringer and strainer used in expressing coconut cream from the grated mature nut is prepared from the green husk of the coconut in the ni motomoto stage of growth, and for this reason the husk of the ni motomoto received the special term of kaha roro (kaha, fiber; roro, coconut cream). Segments of the fresh green husk are beaten to remove the interfibrous material, and the outer skin (epicarp) is discarded. The beaten segment of fiber is strongly twisted in the hands to remove as much as possible of the moisture contained by the green fibers. The material is then soft and suitable, whereas the fiber of mature nuts is too dry and hard. The prepared kaha roro becomes the kainga wringer.
Hala fruit grater (sahu). For grating the ripe keys of the hala (Pandanus) fruit, the sahu was formerly made of tou wood. Such implements are not now used and none were seen. One, as described to me, is shown in figure 11.
The separated keys of the fruit are beaten against the board to soften them. With the keys held at the outer end, the soft fleshy part is drawn over the board against the short upper edge of the end piece, the soft fleshy material is detached from the fibers, and the hard outer part is held by the hand. The soft material falls through the slot into a bowl or page 106 onto a mat placed below the slot. A key is held in either hand, both hands working alternately. When as much as possible of the fleshy material is scraped off, the outer hard parts with the adhering fibers are discarded.
Figure 11. Grater (sahu) for hala (Pandanus) fruit: a, upper surface; b, side view; c, longitudal mesial section. 1, flat board dubbed out of tou timber; 2, square slot at one end of board; 3, piece of ngangie wood lashed across end with upper sharpened edge projecting above level of upper surface of board.
Opener for Tridacna shell (no). A pointed piece of ngangie wood is used for opening the Tridacna shellfish (pasua). To one who knows the exact place and direction of insertion the opening up of the shell is easy. No particular shape for the wood was described.
Many accessory implements are used in connection with coconuts. (See p. 116.)